Last week Liverpool suffered another bump in the road in their turbulent season. Dumped out of FA Cup, the Reds will not be winning a trophy this year, but it may also be significant in their quest for European football.
Liverpool are still on course for a Europa League spot, but only have faint hopes of Champions League qualification. Getting knocked out of the FA Cup means they’ll have to grab their European place via the league, because they won’t get a place from a cup competition.
Realistically, they’re not going to make the Champions League this season. They have just too much to do. Manchester City might slip up a little bit more before the end of the season – and have a tough game against in-form Aston VIlla this weekend – but surely not enough to finish behind Liverpool. Qualifying for the Europa League would be a consolation prize of course, certainly not something they’d have eyed at the start of the season, but it’s definitely a competition they’ll expect to be involved in at the very least.
But there are teams behind them in the league that also have their eyes on the same prize. Liverpool are in fifth place, and so they’re clearly in the best position for qualification. But if Southampton and Spurs start to win games, Liverpool could be in trouble.
England get three representatives in the Europa League, and with Liverpool missing out on the FA Cup final against Arsenal who are all but qualified for the Champions League Villa will get one of those spots.
Champions League-bound Chelsea won the League Cup, so the two spots left will go to fifth and sixth place in the league. And so Liverpool will need to finish in one of those spots in order to qualify.
Currently they sit fifth, and they do have a game in hand over Saints and Spurs, but they’re only a point ahead of the Saints and only above Spurs on goal difference.
So it’s lucky for Liverpool that the two teams directly below them play each other this weekend. They’ll have the chance to gain points on at least one of those teams. Crucially, if they win their game against West Brom, they’ll gain points on 7th place by 5:15 on Saturday, when City kick off against Villa.
But if Liverpool show signs of a hangover from their cup exit and the defeats to Man United and Arsenal, it could have a catastrophic effect on their season. Both of the teams below them, even if they were to lose their next game, would still have enough games left to accrue the points to oust Liverpool from the Europa League places. Even with Liverpool’s game in hand.
There is added pressure on Brendan Rodgers, though.
In this age of managerial merry-go-rounds, impatient owners and mega-money competitions such as the Champions League, the job security for a top manager is frighteningly low. To make matters worse for Rodgers, Jurgen Klopp is available. He’s announced his imminent departure from Borussia Dortmund this summer, and declaring that he won’t be taking a sabbatical means he’s single and ready to mingle.
In fact, there has already been talk of Brendan Rodgers leaving and the BBC’s Sportsday even had a public vote asking who will be Liverpool manager next season. That’s hardly a vote of confidence for the Northern Irishman.
So finishing 7th in the league with no silverware and no European football to show for it would be disastrous for the club, the players and crucially for the manager too. It just can’t happen.
With the Champions League looking very unlikely and no cup competitions to play for, the concern is that Liverpool may struggle to get motivated for their remaining fixtures, too. That’s the kind of situation that could give hope to both Saints and Spurs, and make them believe that they can catch Liverpool.
On paper, Liverpool have the players to keep it together, they have also been in good form despite the defeats I’ve mentioned. They’ve lost the big games – United, Arsenal and an FA Cup semi-final – but the games they have left shouldn’t pose them too many problems. The only one you’d expect them to struggle with is Chelsea.
But actually, if Chelsea lose to Arsenal and we’re left with something vaguely resembling a title race on Sunday evening, the Liverpool Chelsea game could be important. And wouldn’t Liverpool just love to cause Chelsea the same problems that Mourinho and his team bus caused the Reds at Anfield last season.
If Liverpool’s problem is getting up for the games they have left, then there should be no problem getting up for this one.
Liverpool should be fine for a Europa League spot. But they need to be careful because not getting one would be disastrous and may cost their manager his job. With Jurgen Klopp free, lurking like a lion stalking its prey, you’d fear for Rodgers if he does guide his team to a poor run from now until the end of the season. His job just might depend on his ability to motivate his team for their final few games.